We had no less than 17 votes in the House of Commons yesterday. Whilst I do not keep records I can not recall ever having had that many votes in a single day before. 7 of the votes were deferred divisions included 6 on Statutory Instruments which had been debated in Committee and one was on the Canada EU Trade agreement. the other ten were all votes on the Brexit Bill. The government defeated all the amendments which were put forward by the opponents to the Bill. Considering the government only has a majority of 12 the smallest majority last night was 39. On every single vote last night the government secured a vote higher than 325 ( ie half the total size of the House of Commons which is 650). On the crucial final vote on the Third Reading the majority was 372. The Bill now passes to the House of Lords. I hope they reflect on the fact that we have now had a referendum where a majority of voters voted to leave the EU by a margin of over one million votes and now after five long days of debate and dozens of votes the House of commons has approved the Bill to give Notice of our intention to leave the EU. It would be bizarre in the extreme if the House of Lords now tried to stand in the way of the will of the people and the will of the elected House of Commons.
In reality there was not much doubt that the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill would clear its first hurdle. We had three votes. The first was on the Scottish National Party’s amendment which would have killed the Bill. This was defeated by 336 votes to 100. Some Labour and Liberal Democrat MP’s voted with the SNP. The second was on whether to give the Bill a second reading ( what one might call the main vote ) this was passed by 498 to 114. So including the two tellers who incidentally unusually included the Government Chief Whip 500 MP’s voted for Brexit. Finally there was a vote to approve the timetable for next week. This was passed by 329 to 112. So the attention now turns to the hundreds of amendments which the opponents have tabled to try to change the Bill.
The critical Bill to give the government authority to exercise Article 50 and give notice we intend to leave the European Union was debated for the whole day yesterday. Many of Parliament’s biggest names took part in the first of two days of debate. There were dozens and dozens of backbenchers wishing to speak and a time limit of six minutes on speeches which had been imposed was reduced to just four minutes by Mr Speaker as the first day of debate entered its last lap. It was shortly before midnight when I was called. Having had several hours to ponder on what to say I thought when all was said and done it could be summed up in a few words. Ten to be precise:
The people have spoken. This House must now act accordingly.
Ordered, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Stephen Barclay.)
Today at 7pm if the debate runs its course the final votes on whether to give the Bill a Second reading will take place. The Speaker selected one amendment for debate and voting on, the one from the Scottish National Party (SNP). It is likely therefore that there will be at least two votes one on the SNP amendment and one on whether to give the Bill a Second Reading
Perhaps not surprisingly, since the referendum result last year the number one topic which has dominated debates in Parliament has been the effect of the result and what our future relationship with the European Union will be.However, all these debates have been general in nature, today we have the first day of debate on the Bill which will give the Prime Minister formal authority from Parliament to invoke Article 50 of the European Treaty and give notice that in two years we will be leaving the European Union. One might think that given the clear result of the referendum all MP’s would be voting to respect the wishes of the British people. Sadly not. Many MP’s it appears will be taking the view that they know better than the people. I can see why some who represent constituencies who voted overwhelmingly to remain may feel they should oppose the Bill but to do so is a denial of democracy to the majority of the Country who voted to Leave. Unusually for a Second Reading debate it is scheduled to last not one but two days and today is really the equivalent of two days itself as the House will continue sitting until midnight providing another five hours of debate broadly the equivalent of a further days debate.
This week (indeed the next two weeks) will inevitably be dominated with the Bill which will authorise the giving of our Notice to leave the European Union. However, today it is the Second Reading of the Pension Schemes Bill a technical bill designed to improve the regulation of pension schemes. The Bill has already passed through the Lords and is now due to be given a Second Reading in the Commons today.
At the end of this post is the full text of my he Bill which was given its formal First Reading yesterday. As readers can see it about as straightforward as it could be. Indeed, it is difficult to think how it could be more straightforward. The result of the referendum was clear. Over one and a quarter million more people voted for Leave than Remain. This was despite the whole of Government, the Prime Minister, the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, nearly all of the Trade Union movement, nearly all of Big Business, the European Union (naturally), the Big Banks the then President of the United States of America trying to persuade people to vote to Remain and warning of the most dire consequences should people dare to vote to Leave.
Interestingly, the latest figures released yesterday show the economy continues to grow. In the fourth quarter of 2016 it grew by 0.6%. So despite over six months having passed since the referendum our economy continues to grow at the fastest rate of the most advanced G7 countries.
Anyway, back to Brexit. This Bill is simply about ensuring there is Parliamentary approval to confirm the result of the referendum. This is in accordance with the judgment of the Supreme Court announced on Tuesday. It is bizarre that those who were criticising the government for creating uncertainty are now seeking to frustrate the result of the referendum.
The Bill will be debated for two days on Second Reading. Most bills including those which are many times the complexity of this Bill only have one day. The following week we will spend another three days considering the Bill in Committee of the Whole House. Usually bills are only considered in a Committee of around 16 MP’s at the Committee Stage.
If the Bill is passed by the House of Commons it will then go to the House of Lords where it will go through all the legislative processes again. I find it difficult to accept this does not constitute sufficient Parliamentary scrutiny of a Bill which only seeks to carry out the wishes of the British people as expressed in the referendum.
This is the text of the Bill:
A BILL TO
Confer power on the Prime Minister to notify, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty
on European Union, the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the
Be it enacted by the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and
consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present
Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:—
1. Power to notify withdrawal from the EU
(1)The Prime Minister may notify, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European
Union, the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the EU.
(2)This section has effect despite any provision made by or under the European
Communities Act 1972 or any other enactment.
2. Short title
Act may be cited as the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017.
As I anticipated it has not taken long for the consequences of the Supreme Court judgment announced on Tuesday to start to be noticed. On the Order Paper today is the following under the heading of Presentation of Bill:
European Union (Notification of Withdrawal)
Secretary David Davis
Bill to confer power on the Prime Minister to notify, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the EU.
This is what is referred to as the First Reading and the Leader will announce the next stages of the Parliamentary proceedings for this Bill at the Business Statement today.